singing


Healthy Technique

Recently, I have read about the controversy surrounding 14 year old singer Laura Bretan singing opera caught my attention.

Healthy Singing

Classic FM summarizes the issue in their article “Laura Bretan’s singing technique ‘raises deep concerns’ says singing teacher“. Voice professionals have expressed their concerns over the stress Bretan is placing on her vocal chords due to her choice in singing opera prematurely.

While I am not a voice teacher, it is important to open the discussion on healthy technique for musicians. Piano players, much like other instrumentalists and singers, have physical limitations that should not be pushed without consideration.  A consequence is that this behaviour can cause long-lasting injuries.

Musician Injuries

The most common condition for an overworked pianist is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is characterized by a pain in the arms and hands caused by a compression of a major nerve. This syndrome is seen in piano players that play and practice with tension in their hands and arms. This is especially dangerous if the pianist is practicing for hours every day without consideration of proper technique.

Just like how we should not try to lift heavy objects with our backs, we should not attempt to force advanced technique on a student that has not yet learned to use their body in a free and relaxed manner.

When we bypass healthy technique to play difficult music, we not only worsen our physical condition but also limit ourselves in our musical expression. Without freedom in the arms, wrists, and hands, a pianist can never truly express themselves on the piano.

Healthy Technique:

An approach to healthy piano technique is the Taubman Approach. While reading this information may be helpful, please consult and ask your piano teacher if you feel as though you have tension while playing the piano. Healthy technique is the basis of great piano playing!

Practice safe! Be sure to take breaks, to stretch, and to always warm up.

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Singing in lessons

Why Should We Sing?

 

Many students and parents can testify to my singing in piano lessons. I exaggerate beyond my actual natural talent to sing, to make points about phrasing, and rhythm, and mood. Actually, every music teacher I’ve had did this.  In University, they encouraged it strongly, even though most of us were not voice majors. They do this, not only singing is great for you, but because it is one of the strongest ways to communicate a musical idea.

 

Why?

 

The voice is likely the first instrument any of us ever used.  As a baby, we quickly learn what pitches (high or low), and dynamics (volume) work to communicate what we want to our guardians.  Languages, although not necessarily musical to our ears, flow and move in pitches, rhythm, and dynamics. These aspects of sounds are what makes language so effective. How many different ways can you say  the words “I Love You”? How many different meanings can you portray simply by changing your pitch, rhythm and dynamics?

I LOVE you, I love you?, I love you!, I loveeee you, i love you. 

Our voice, is the instrument we are born with to communicate our ideas. Language, is what we created and learned to express the ideas. Music is no different.

 

Classical music, has historically been very influenced by how language flows.  For instance,  a song written in French would have different considerations from a song written in German. The words would flow differently, so the song would flow differently. In order for singers to express the ideas authentically, they must understand to some degree what is being sung.

 

How is this related to piano playing?

 

The way that the piano works, is that when a key is depressed, a hammer strikes a string inside the piano. This can be counter-intuitive to singing.

For example, when singing a high note, it is very natural for singers to become louder. This is generally because it requires more air to reach the higher notes.  The opposite happens for lower notes.  This also happens more naturally for instrument that require air control. However, on the piano, it is possible to play every note the same dynamic, since no air control is required.

This is why piano players must sing in their practice sessions and piano lessons. We must understand what it means to use breathing in our music, and to understand what natural phrasing is.  The piano is an instrument, just like the voice, and needs to be played as such.  

 

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